Leinster and Munster produced the best examples of playoff rugby in the quarter-final round, and while Leinster have to travel to Pretoria, the shadow Ireland international team showed how importantly it is regarding the Vodacom URC playoffs this year with an energetic shut out of Ulster in Dublin.

Unlike last season, the four quarter-finals played at the weekend went according to script – in other words, it was the home sides that won. There were no upsets like those that made the league phase of the season so competitive and the finish to it so enthralling.

It was the two South African teams that were in the two close games; the Irish teams, Munster and Leinster, won emphatically.

The Vodacom Bulls nearly allowed Benetton to leave South Africa having pulled off the upset of the season. Indeed, Benetton, one of the revelations of this edition of the Vodacom URC, should be kicking themselves for the soft moment that allowed their hosts to score a try through David Kriel straight after they themselves had fought back to within touching distance of the men from Pretoria with a try.

The Vodacom Bulls were way too passive, particularly on defence, and appeared to lose their spark when Springbok wing Kurt-Lee Arendse went off injured.

Ultimately Arendse’s initiative in scoring the early try that put his team into a 7-0 lead was what separated the teams. Arendse is out for a while, which is a blow for the Vodacom Bulls, and they will also be without Canan Moodie for Saturday’s big semi-final against Leinster at Loftus Versfeld.

That could be problematic against a Leinster team that is so organised and laden with talent at the back, but at least the Vodacom Bulls will be welcoming back into the selection two key forward personnel in the form of Springbok loose forwards Marco van Staden and Marcel Coetzee.

Kurt-Lee Arendse scored two of the Vodacom Bulls' three tries.

Kurt-Lee Arendse scored two of the Vodacom Bulls' three tries.

The latter has been involved in some big performances against Leinster in the past, most notably when he was the talisman of Ulster for so many years, while Van Staden has been missed for his role as ball scavenger.

Against Leinster, and Josh van der Flier, Van Staden will play an important role. It was the absence of the man who plays the Van Staden role for them, Deon Fourie, that probably cost the DHL Stormers in the latter part of the season.

Their second-best player when it comes to playing to the ball on the ground is Evan Roos, who was also absent from their defeat to Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium. When it was learned Roos had been ruled out because of a concussion sustained in training, the chances of the Stormers winning changed significantly.

There was no denying though that the Cape team conspired against themselves. You can’t afford to miss 10 points from the tee in a close game, which this game was, and which Manie Libbok did.

In defence of the Springbok flyhalf, the wind was treacherous, but the opposing kicker George Horn showed that the challenge was not insurmountable by slotting most of his attempts and winning the official man of the match award.

It would be wrong to blame the defeat entirely on Libbok, however, and apart from some elementary errors with ball in hand they also produced some soft moments, the most blatant being the drop at the restart that led to Glasgow scoring their first try just a minute after the DHL Stormers had crossed the line for the first time through Ben Loader.

DHL Stormers captain Salmaan Moerat in action against Glasgow Warriors.

DHL Stormers captain Salmaan Moerat in action against Glasgow Warriors.

When Horn nailed the conversion there was more than a score in it for the first time. That, coupled with the untimely yellow card to skipper Salmaan Moerat, was what cost the inaugural champions the game and prevented them from surviving for at least another week.

The Ospreys were willing against Munster but the defending champions played excellent finals rugby by suffocating the Welsh team and pinning them in their own half, particularly after halftime, thus forcing them to confine all their good endeavour to the wrong areas of the field.

While Glasgow played with huge intensity in what was a highly watchable and up-tempo game at the Scotstoun, they will start as underdogs in the later semi-final on Saturday at Thomond Park. Franco Smith’s team though will feel they have got a monkey off their back after finally winning a playoff game and may be dangerous if they feel they go to Munster with nothing to lose.

Conversely, the Vodacom Bulls could be dangerous if, as expected, the narrative of the buildup week conspires to make them the underdogs in their own fortress against Leinster.

The Vodacom Bulls always have a good chance of winning at Loftus, whoever they play. Even when the opponents are Leinster. The Vodacom Bulls turned around a big defeat at the AVIVA Stadium in their first ever Vodacom URC game when they shocked Leinster at the RDS Arena later in the semi-final later on in that inaugural season.

They can certainly do it again, particularly if Loftus turns out in force instead of leaving large blue spaces in the stands as was the case for the quarter-final. That turn out (it was 19 000) may have been understandable. Everybody expected the Vodacom Bulls to win easily against Benetton, as they had in league play just three weeks earlier. And the semifinal against mighty Leinster was seen as a racing certainty.

Leinster didn’t take long after the Vodacom Bulls had snuck home against the Italian team to turn the key and make it a proper certainty. Jake White would hardly have finished his press duties at Loftus when the Dublin team had taken a 17-0 lead that they were never going to relinquish.

Vodacom United Rugby Championship quarter-final results:
Munster 23 Ospreys 7
Vodacom Bulls 30 Benetton 23
Leinster 43 Ulster 20
Glasgow Warriors 27 DHL Stormers 10

Vodacom United Rugby Championship semi-finals:

Saturday, 15 June:
16h00: Vodacom Bulls v Leinster (Pretoria)
19h00: Munster v Glasgow Warriors (Limerick)